Research shows that it is less expensive and more profitable for businesses to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. And one of the simplest ways to do that is by providing great customer service. Herewith are a dozen simple tips from business owners and customer service pros on how to satisfy customers (without, in most cases, having to spend an extra dollar) and keep them coming back for more.
Take responsibility for problems. "Be honest," said Ross Kimbarovsky of crowdSPRING. If you screwed up an order, admit it. If your site is experiencing some downtime or your software has some bugs, let people know.
"And if you don't know the answer [to a customer question], simply say that you don't and tell them that you will find out and get back to them ASAP," he said. "People appreciate transparency, but even more so they appreciate humility. And a healthy dose of both" can calm an angry customer and help build trust – and even brand loyalty.
Embrace the complaints. "As customers complain, or make note of things that aren't working with your products or business processes, use that information to create a fix that customers will love," said Chris Curtis, executive director of Web Business Ownership. Want to impress customers even more? Write about the problem – and how you fixed it – online, on your website or blog, or on Facebook or Twitter – or in your company newsletter, thanking the customer for pointing out the problem.
Respond quickly to customer queries. "Be responsive and fast with your replies," said Davide Di Cillo, CEO of The Fifth Layer. "People always seem [pleasantly] surprised when we reply to their enquiries in less than an hour." And while you probably don't have to reply within an hour, sending customers an acknowledgment that you are aware of the problem within a few hours (if not automatically) and then helping them solve their problem in less than 24 hours is a sure-fire way to win over customers.
Use social media. Social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, are a great customer service device, said Lindy Moses, marketing associate at FabulousSavings. "FabulousSavings.com has been using Twitter as an open forum, making us available to the customer whenever they may need us, be it to answer questions or hunt down a deal. Customer service is all about being there for the customer, and social media tools allow for this quite easily."
Sabrina Fenster, marketing director at mTrip Travel Guides, advocates integrating customer service and customer relationship management (CRM) with social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter are great listening tools, she said. You can use them to "ask customers questions – such as what features they would like added," as well as provide customer support, and then store that information in your CRM system.
Add live chat and collaboration tools to your website. "Tools like [live chat,] co-browsing and screen sharing enable customer service agents to be on the same page – literally – as customers calling in with a question or problem," said Michelle Brusyo, marketing director at LiveLook.
"By providing technology that creates a visual connection, companies ensure their agents are able to understand customer issues and complaints quickly and accurately, without requiring lengthy descriptions of what the customer sees on the screen, or expecting the customer to articulate effectively what he or she is having trouble with on the website," she said. And today there are several highly secure tools and services that allow for co-browsing while preventing transmission of sensitive data, or even blocking content.
Reward good customers. "Develop reasonable customer loyalty programs with generous discounts and seasonal offers," said John White, support manager at BestEssayHelp.
Follow up with customers. "Call customers after they bought the service or product and check how they are doing," suggested Orit Pennington, the owner of TPGTFX Label Solutions Inc. "Ask things like: is everything working as you expected? Do you need help with anything? Can I answer any questions for you? We find this practice to be a real winner for us. Our customers appreciate it."
Indeed, many times that follow-up call or email can reveal problems you didn't know about that could have cost you future sales. And by following up not only can you identify and help solve or resolve problems or gain new insights into your products and services, you create satisfied customers who are much more likely to buy from you again and tell their friends.